Duke Ellington

Complete Gus Wildi Recordings and More

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The Duke Ellington Orchestra captured here was betwixt and between at the time -- having exited their Capitol Records contract after an unsatisfying couple of years, the band was back at full strength for the first time since 1951 with the return of Johnny Hodges to the fold, after the latter's stint running his own band, and moved over to Gus Wildi's Bethlehem label for two albums, Historically Speaking: The Duke and Duke Ellington Presents, both of which are represented here along with his earlier Ellington '55 album. Historically Speaking: The Duke, cut in February of 1956, was a look across 30 years of Ellington's music from 1926 to the present, re-creating the original arrangements with his current band, and is priceless just for the canvas it gives Hodges, Paul Gonsalves, Cat Anderson, Ray Nance, Jimmy Hamilton, and the others. "Ko-Ko" is worth the price of admission by itself, but juxtaposed with the exquisite "In a Mellow Mood" the disc speaks for itself. Duke Ellington Presents, which was recorded the same month, featured a different soloist on each song, in various contemporary arrangements of enduring pieces such as "Summertime," "Laura," and "I Can't Get Started." The sound on both sets of sessions is superb, state-of-the-art for 2005 with a very close acoustic and richly detailed, and it's a great opportunity to hear in a coherent body of work the band that soon re-emerged at the top of its form at the Newport Jazz Festival later that year. The bonus material off of Ellington '55 also works well in this context, and better than it did on its own.

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